Dark clouds for the White Space spectrum

“Given that unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi come from small and new companies, the future of new uses would be very bleak,” said Harold Feld, Public Knowledge’s legal director.

I guess it was good while it lasted.  A new draft bill moving through congress is set to gut the power of the White Space spectrum.  Buried in pages of text, Public Knowledge pulls out the offender from the bill. (PDF) In addition to removing net neutrality requirements for wireless spectrum and killing any remaining media ownership limitations on broadcasters, the bill proposes to: require prospective users of unlicensed spectrum to bid in auctions going forward.

You’ve got to be kidding right?

From Public Knowledge:

“Finally, the innovation and experimentation we have seen through the use of unlicensed spectrum would screech to a grinding halt.  Rather than have the FCC decide how much spectrum would be used for unlicensed uses, the draft bill would require a collective bid for unlicensed spectrum higher than bids for licensed uses.  Given that unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi come from small and new companies, the future of new uses would be very bleak.”

They go on to provide page references to the actual language:

“page 26, line 10. unlicensed spectrum is subject to auction.  A block of spectrum would be put up for auction, with bidders specifying whether use would be for licensed or unlicensed use.  Unlicensed has to be higher for bid to be accepted.”

Daily Wireless comments: “Money talks. Buying unlicensed spectrum is a fantasy of cellular providers, even if it is an oxymoron. Like “Freedom is slavery”. Or “Ignorance is strength”.

And just so we don’t have to think too hard, Gigaom breaks it down for us:

“The draft bill says that in order for unlicensed spectrum to win out over a licensed bidder, an entity or a group of people would have to collectively bid more than a licensed bidder would. This would be akin to having a group of people who want more unlicensed airwaves going up against Verizon or AT&T. As a reminder Verizon spent $9.63 billion on spectrum licenses in the last auction while AT&T spent $6.64 billion. The legislators may have envisioned Google playing a heroic role here and thus enabling the government to make some extra money in a spectrum auction as opposed to just letting such potentially lucrative spectrum become a public radio panacea regulated by the FCC.

There’s another wacky issue with unlicensed spectrum — all of the airwaves would be auctioned off in geographic blocks which means that there would be no nationwide unlicensed spectrum block created. So even if local communities or corporate entities interested in promoting unlicensed spectrum bought out the airwaves, they’d only have access to the ones in their local areas. This is how wireless providers buy their spectrum, and it can lead to some operators having a hard time covering certain markets. And while a local municipality might want to buy unlicensed spectrum to offer its citizens Super Wi-Fi or another service over those airwaves, getting low-cost devices for only one area would be a challenge. Device makers can’t provide cheap electronics for smaller markets.”

So the hopes of White Space routers and even White Space phones may be dashed o the rocks of paid off politicians – outside its America.

About Daniel Davenport

Daniel is a digital media executive with internet and broadcast experience. Daniel is currently the executive strategy director at THINK Interactive.


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